More Than The End of An Era
Last Friday, Jeopardy aired. Alex Trebek wished everybody a Merry Christmas (the shows are taped two months in advanced and the last week has been delayed) He greeted the three contestants, bantered with them about holding on to books, read the categories, was calm and polite, and went about his business as he had for the last several months — and indeed, as he had for the last thirty six years. He congratulated Jim Gilligan on winning $24,401 and then told everybody: “See you next time.”
The big difference was when the credits rolled. The next minute showed Alex Trebek in several wonderful moments over the years of the show — making the contestants laugh, coming out in costume, introducing his children, announcing winners, and finally a montage of his saying “Good Night.” This is how Jeopardy chose to say goodbye to an icon and a legend, a man who seemed to do nothing big at his job and yet for exactly that reason would become one of television’s greatest forces.
It’s been very difficulty watching the show the last two months. Even in this world of division and lockdown, even as he suffered from pancreatic cancer, Jeopardy and Alex Trebek were something you can count on. Of course, Jeopardy still will be there, but Trebek won’t. By now, all but the oldest among us have forgotten that the show did exist in a format without him in the 1960s and 70s or that Trebek actually hosted a number of game shows, including Classic Concentration and High Rollers. Jeopardy has been Alex Trebek for so long, it seems impossible to imagine it existing without him.
Yet I am certain that Trebek wanted the show to outlast him. When he was first diagnosed in March of last year, one of the first things he must’ve considered was: “Someone must replace me.” He made jovial suggestions of people like Regis Philbin and Betty White and would say he had to live because of his contract running until 2024 but Alex took everything seriously. There has to have been a discussion — several, in fact — of who would be the person who would go on to replace him. As it is, several guest hosts are going to be trying on his mantle the next few weeks — among them, Ken Jennings, who joined the staff of Jeopardy’s writers this season, Katie Couric and George Stephanopoulos. There have also been petitions for more unlikely candidates, like LeVar Burton, whose virtues I put forth in an article a few weeks ago. And I imagine there are a few champions from the show’s past who could do a job — I’d advocate for all-time money winner Brad Rutter, who is in the entertainment business and has hosted his fair share of quiz shows.
Of course many people, some of them close friends, wonder if Jeopardy can survive the loss of Trebek at all. This is a difficult question to answer. But somehow I have faith that it can withstand the loss of the man who was at the helm. Because I believe at it’s core, the series is more than about one man. It has always been more about the exceptional men and woman who have appeared over thirty six, those who have become celebrities themselves because of Jeopardy. It will take a lot of work — to paraphrase Jefferson that person will “succeed him, no one can replace him.” Trebek would’ve been the first to say the show must go on. And I really believe it will.